The Nightmare of Tora-Tora
By Johnnie Lim
1975, in Pasil, Sulu, Philippines - The sky was clear, cloudless and crystal-like. The blazing heat of the sun glittered on the riverbank. But a brief rain shower forced Pindatun and I to stay under the Wanni tree. Then in a while, an awesome rainbow became visible. “Abdel…Abdel!" A familiar voice echoed from a distance. It was not unusual to hear babuh Insih calling me that way. Her voice disturbed the flocks that were taking time on top of the Buwahan trees. It was louder than before.
“Abs, you are called. We will just continue hunting for birds later in the afternoon," Pindatun suggested. “But I guess it’s not yet time to eat,” I exclaimed. “Maybe she’s taking you to town,” Pindatun explained. “Town?” She didn’t mention anything like that to me,” I emphasized. “Mother told me last night that the barangay captain’s son is going to marry today. I know that she will go together with your babuh Insih,” Pindatun confirmed.
So I hurriedly ran to where my babuh Insih's voice came from. “I’m here!” I shouted. “You should have not gone too far from the house, Abdel,” babuh Insih explained. “Come with me. We will go to Utoh Askali’s house. His eldest son is going to get marry today. And…I am invited to sing the lugu’.” She continued.
Almost all of the visitors were having fun in that Pag-imun-imun. Everyone was there. It was so happy to see familiar faces around. Pindatun was also there. He was carrying his father’s Armalite. So I joined him sitting in front of a long table where native pastries were served such as; Bang-Bang Hantak, Sasagun, Bawlu, Panganan, Durul, Jah, Pitis, Daral, Pasung, Jualan and many others. We ate some and I noticed that each of us was given three glasses of beverage. The first glass was filled with coffee, the second was filled with tea and the third was filled with water.
Later, the parkalah was full of luruk coming from the neighborhood. Many of them were armed men. Each of them carried a gun. But it was no longer new to my sight. Women glittered in colorful outfits with very exaggerating pieces of jewelry which I was so sure were made of gold.“Look Abs, those ladies are going to dance the Pangalay. Let’s go closer and take a look,” Pindatun invited.
Three ladies in colorful Sawwal and Batawi danced gracefully. They were accompanied by a traditional music played by four men who were sitting side by side. A beautiful sound of kulintangan, tabungguh, gandang and agong blended together. Few minutes later, a man walked around the ladies and put or clipped some paper bills on their shoulder as a form of appreciation for a good performance. He was Datu Al-Mujiv, the groom. It was followed by his father and brothers. Then, some of the luruk also did the same.
“Abdel,” a voice called me. But this time, it was a man’s voice. “We have to leave this place as soon as possible. The military are heading to this place.” Pindatun reported. “But where are we going? It’s too dark out there. Why don’t we just sleep in this paksul and wait till the morning comes?” I explained. “There’s no time to argue, Abdel. Everyone is moving now,” Pindatun emphasized. “We have to leave this place. Let’s go!” babuh Insih declared. I was so reluctant to come out of the paksul. We only had lingered in it for a while and it was too tiresome moving from one place to another. It seemed like an endless caravan with no definite destination. My feet almost swelled with pain that night. And so was my stomach. I was still sitting with my back leaning against the wall of the un-concrete dark and smelly paksul. “Get out of it now! They are coming closer….Hurry!” Pindatun urged. Suddenly a big blast broke the silence that night jerking every corner of the place. It was followed by another terrifying sound that cut several Coconut trees. The tapahan were blazing in fire. Houses were destroyed. In my mind, I could see a giant demon amidst the blazing fire. A demon who devours anything or anyone he encounters in his way. The sight was so frightening. And I couldn’t remember how I managed to jump out of that deep excavation when another bomb was dropped by that scary aircraft. And before the third bomb exploded, I found myself running toward the darkest jungle. There… I saw a number of people fleeing to the same direction….Shivering….trembling. And though it wasn’t easy to recognize anyone, I knew they were families who left their homes and property. The horrible sound of the fatal weapons continued. “Run…Run!” An old man from the group shouted vigorously. In fear and confusion, he ran away while shouting "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!". At my age, I thought he got a good idea in doing that. But in no time, he fell down and died....Helpless. So everyone sat down in silence...Wishing that it was over. Wishing that angels would come to save us...but, there was none. Angels were deaf and blind that night. In my mind, as I looked at the stars in the sky and listened to the cry of the hungry children, I supposed that God was fast asleep for prayers were not answered either. Only the hope itself remained as the weapon in everyone's heart. The hope to survive. The hope to live. This was the weapon that made us fearless. The priceless weapon that gave no room for the fear to conquer our mind. So under the trees we sat in silence...Helpless but determined. Then in another big paksul again we safely hid ourselves and waited till the morning came.
Everything was still fresh in my mind. The scene was as clear as babuh Insih’s enchanting voice that echoed around as she sang the Lugu’. The food was so inviting that I couldn’t resist until I felt something strange in my tummy, a call of nature. So together with Pindatun, I quickly looked for a big tree at the backyard where I could dispose my waste. And finally, we made it with no interruption. I could still hear the lugu’ of babuh Insih, the sound of Kulintangan and the laughter of every luruk. “Are you done?” Pindatun asked. “Yes!” I replied. “But there’s no water here,” I complained. “Is that a problem? Look, there’s a lot of coffee leaves around,” Pindatun laughed.
But the feast turned bloody when a Tora-Tora swiftly passed over and dropped a bomb. At an instant, a frightening sound burst into the ground. By and by, the dust filled the air. “Lailaha Illallah!” A man shouted in the house. Pindatun and I were very lucky. We kept on hiding under a big Durian tree. We knew that many were injured...many died. That was the last day I heard the enchanting voice of my babuh Insih. The voice which I sometimes hated to hear whenever she told me not to hang around with friends. But at that moment, I missed her. I wished I could turn back time but it's over.
“Where are you going, ama?” My young boy asked. “To the market place. Where is your ina?” I inquired. “She’s in the neighborhood. Aren’t you coming with us, ama?” My son continued. “Why, where do you plan to go with your inah, Salih?” I investigated. “To the next street. The counselor is going to celebrate his son’s pagkawin today.” Salih explained.
Agong – is different from a typical royalty gong. It is a basin-like metal musical instrument usually hit at the back to produce sound.
ama - means father
babu’ – means aunt
bang-bang – means biscuit or pastry
Batawi – is a blouse usually accentuated with artistic golden or silver buttons called ‘Tambuku’ by the natives .
Bawlu – is one of the Tausug pastries similar to a cup cake.
Buwahan - means lanzones
Daral – is one of the Tausug pastries made of grated coconut meat cooked with brown sugar and wrapped with a lumpia-like wrapper.
Durul –is one of the Tausug pastries. It is soft and black in appearance wrapped with dry Banana leaves varying in sizes.
Hantak – is one of the Tausug biscuits rolled in white sugar.
Ina – means mother
Jah – is one of the Tausug pastries made of rice flour with sugar. It is deep- fried in artistic way shaped into a cigarette-like. In Luuk, it is shaped like a triangle.
Juwalan – is fried Banana split.
Kulintangan – is a musical instrument composed of round metal plates arranged on strings according to size supported by a boat-like wooden stand.
Lugu’ – is a chant usually sung during Mauluddin Nabi to celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.).
Luruk- means visitor
Pag imun- imun – means gathering
Pagkawin – means wedding
Paksul - is a deep excavation usually found underneath a house where natives hide to keep themselves safe from gunshots or any bomb blast.
Pangalay – is a native dance in Sulu usually assisted by musical background of Kulintangan, Agong and Tabunggu’ when performed. Now, musical background is available in CDs.
Panganan- is one of the Tausug pastries made of roast corn flour mixed with common flour and sugar rolled in different stylish shapes. It is usually black in appearance.
Panyam- is one of the Tausug pastries made of rice flour with sugar and natural flavoring usually comes from Durian. It is deep fried in different sizes. The largest panyam is found in Luuk.
Parkala’ – means occasion
Pasung – is one of the Tausug pastries made of rice flour with sugar wrapped with Banana leaves in cone shape and steamed. The color varies. It is brown if brown sugar is used. It is white if white sugar is used.
Pitis – is one of the Tausug pastries made of special black rice flour called ‘Putan’ with sugar and coconut milk wrapped with Banana leaves.
Sasagun- is one of the Tausug biscuit made of common flour and corn flour with sugar which when eaten easily melts in the mouth.
Sawwal- is a loose square pants of varied colors usually worn during Muslim holidays and wedding.
Tabunggu’- is a musical instrument made of wooden tube-like of which the upper and the lower parts are covered with animal hide usually of cow which when hit produce sound.
Tapahan – is a semi house-like where natives partially cook coconut meat by means of allowing the smoke to dry the meat before drying them under the heat of the sun and later be sold to the Abaca dealer
Wanni – is a mango-like fruit commonly found in Sulu
About The Author:Johnnie J. Lim is a graduate of Ateneo de Zamboanga University, Philippines with Master of Arts in English. He was an Editor-in-Chief during his college at Mindanao State University where he finished his Bachelor of Science in Education major in English and graduated as journalist of the year. In 2008-2009, he worked as an English teacher in Non-Destructive Testing Technology Institute, 2nd Industrial City of Dammam, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he taught General English to college students. In 1998-2008, He worked as an English teacher and later became the Language Coordinator in Notre Dame of Jolo College, Jolo, Sulu, Philippines. He also served as one of the representatives of the American Studies Program Committee through the initiative of the Thomas Jefferson Information Center of US Embassy Manila in putting up American Studies Resource Centers in some of the colleges/universities in the Philippines. In 1994-1996, he worked as a high school English teacher and adviser of the school paper in Luuk National High School, Luuk, Sulu, Philippines. Mr. Lim has conducted a research entitled "Students' Reactions on Code Switching among Teachers". He is also conducting studies about mysticism.